Friday, August 13, 2010

Official recommendations in internal elections

There's been an interesting debate developing around whether or not it's anti-democratic for the official top brass to endorse candidates running in a contested election. For those who are opposed it seems to say 'Sure, you *can* vote for the other candidate, but really, it's against policy'.

Let's look at the current Green Party deputy leadership election. Here we have Derek Wall running against Adrian Ramsay, both known and respected figures in the party, but of course Adrian is not just the incumbent he is also running as a joint ticket with the uncontested (and currently unbeatable) Caroline Lucas. Some people clearly think this is a problem.

Personally I'm OK with this because, to me, it seems like useful information to know who Caroline's preferred deputy is. Also the fact that they are running as a team implies a shared political vision or approach, which again is useful information to those deciding where to place their support. The fact that it is overwhelmingly seen as an (undue?) advantage to Adrian is simply because Lucas is well respected in the party - but doesn't this mean her opinion counts and should be heard? Members should have received their ballot papers this week and will still have the option of voting for Derek as deputy, no matter how official Caroline's endorsement may feel to some.

The hard-left example

This is a far cry from the way far-left groupings organise their internal leadership elections. These are decided by the hardcore activists (usually by show of hands) at conferences under the watchful eye of organisers, rather than by post to all members in a secret ballot. They also always use slate systems which suffocate debate, reducing members' options to being in favour or opposed to the official party selection. This gives tremendous weight to a self-perpetuating leadership and all but declares even nuanced disagreement on (or among) candidates as an automatic ticket to political Coventry, which is even worse than the actual Coventry - if you can imagine such a thing.

That's better than CAAT though. I was horrified when I discovered that the Campaign Against Arms Trade has no elections at all but some sort of nebulous self-selected body of elders. It ticks along pretty nicely without all that fuss of members deciding how their money is spent or anything. They still manage to make a worthwhile contribution to the movement, but I think that's inadequate for any organisation that does not want to get mired in conservatism or risk becoming a self-sustaining clique.

For me tickets, like the Lucas/Ramsay combined candidacy provide a useful function as long as members have the power to buck the recommendations if they so choose, which in the Greens they do because they still vote for individuals, not lists. However, I would draw the line at 'official' tickets, which seem inappropriate, painting those unlucky enough not to be on that list as unrepresentative of the organisation, when surely that's what the election is there to decide.

Official recommendations

An interesting variation on this is the Fawcett Society's internal trustee elections, which are taking place at the moment. Here members are being asked to elect six of nine candidates (using the completely inappropriate STV system). The existing Fawcett board provide their recommendations of which six they want members to elect to help to run it which goes out with the candidate statements.

While I'm not informed enough to quibble with the out-going board's recommendation which is probably sound (and the London Library use the same system) this process does seem to have a few ethical issues when it comes to accountability and openness.

Caroline Lucas endorsing Adrian may *feel* like the official endorsement of the Green Party to some members but it falls far short of the Fawcett option of the organisation actually telling members who it wants them to elect to hold it to account.

Note: If Green Party members want to submit a question to the online leadership hustings send an email to with the subject header 'hustings question'. Put your name and local party in the email and if your question is for a specific position (either leader or deputy) remember to specify that.


Alasdair said...

I can't claim to be terribly au fait with the internal organisation of the Fawcett Society, but what's inappropriate about them using STV to select their trustees?

Jim Jepps said...

That's not specific to Fawcett, after all the GP uses STV for internal elections for committees.

The problem with numbered ranked votes for a committee of six is that if you're alphabetically number six in the official list you'd actually find it quite difficult to beat a 'rebel' candidate with, say, 10% support - due to your very low number of first prefs and high likelyhood of being knocked out before sixth prefs are counted.

That would be even though you're desired by the majority of members they have had to rank in order of preference their prefered team.

For this sort of election it should really be six votes for six candidates, in my view.

Alasdair said...

I see your point. Though that would be the case with a lot of systems. I think it's independence of smith dominated alternatives you need to prevent that sort of anomaly.

I probably wouldn't go with multiple votes - though maybe range or approval voting would work, assuming there isn't too much tactical voting. Best would probably be a Condorcet type method, something like Schulze.

That said, randomly ordering the ballots so that first preferences within the 'official' list are relatively even should be enough in most situations.

Jim Jepps said...

I had to look up Schulze I'm afraid - looks interesting but it's for single winners not multi-member constituencies (according to wikipedia).

Randomising the ballot papers is an interesting way of dealing with the problem. I assume you mean everyone's ballot paper is different rather than they are ordered the same random way on everyone's paper (like in Australia when they wanted to counter the donkey vote)

Dave said...

I'm torn; the idea that leadership clique dictate who should be in and who's out is something that ultimately becomes undemocratic, but it's not automatically. I've been in organisations where members simply didn't know what was going on on the governing committee, because of a mixture of the work being behind the scenes, and the committee having a desire to not wash dirty linen in public because that opened it to round attack from critics outside the organisation.

As a result, completely destructive wreckers, obstructionists or people who didn't share the core values got in, because the crucial aspect of the democratic process - an informed electorate - wasn't there.

As a result, I tend to think that people on a committee have a responsibility to inform members if there are people standing who would be disastrous to the collective effort of a group.

Whether that's what's going on here, I don't know. But I think drawing a hard and fast line isn't actually possible; too much depends on the organisation, the members, its size, the nature of its work etc.

Green Christian said...

even worse than the actual Coventry - if you can imagine such a thing.

Oi! There are plenty of places worse than Coventry.

Alasdair said...

Yeah, different ordering on each ballot. It's probably the easiest work around. I'm pretty sure there are multi-member variations on Schulze, I don't remember the names off the top of my head though.

Adam Pogonowski said...

You misinterpreted what most of us are actually saying. We are saying, and I certainly am, that endorsements are valid, and should remain so.

The beef comes with joint-ticketing, which really does mar people's visions as to the other candidates, especially when one so powerful and influential as Caroline has Adrian running on her ticket. That is more than endorsing, and I feel it unfair, as to many many others.

Cathryn said...

Randomising should be done as a matter of course on just about every ballot paper in these days of computers. More expensive to print, of course, but surely a lot fairer.

Personally, I've no problem with what Caroline is doing in endorsing / joint ticketing with Adrian, and as someone who doesn't particularly know either deputy candidate, it does influence my thinking.

But that 'committee' endorsement thing is awful, and very common for shareholders and professional societies where there is often a box for the sheep to tick - it always makes me try to find something I can disagree with, just to annoy them. But organisations where it becomes a transparency problem are probably getting what their members deserve. It seems to me to be a function of people being unwilling to get involved.

Adam Pogonowski said...

There you go, point proven. It influences people's thinking. It will prevent them (most likely) from researching the candidates and their policies, and will lead to a nice tick on the box next to who Caroline says we should put a tick next to.

That is not a fair way to conduct an election. It is also a lazy way to do so. That is why joint-ticketing is an outrage.

But nota bene, I do not disagree with endorsing.

Matt Hodgkinson said...

I created ballots with different ordering of candidates for elections within Brent Green Party. It's possible to do quite easily for elections with up to four candidates; beyond that you'd need a computer system as the number of permutations becomes too high to do manually.

Another fair system would be to have circular ballot papers! Then nobody appears at the top of the ballot paper - there isn't a top.

Jim Jepps said...

Dave: I think that's a useful point. The fact is you can have undemocratic structures that tick along smoothly and more democratic that are a disaster.

My concern, I suppose, is that if you build in a mechanism that favours the opinion of small groups of people who 'run' the organisation then it becomes difficult to overturn, or allow in fresh voices. This might just mean conservativism, but at worst could mean corruption.

Green Christian: :)

Adam: I'm not sure I am misinterpreting - although I am disagreeing with an open mind. I think running as a joint ticket (where people can reject the ticket) is essentially an 'endorsement plus'.

Of course that could backfire and some people clearly have reacted against that - which I find interesting because, although I've got no problem with it per se if there's something anti-democratic about it that I missed I may change my mind.

I think all kinds of things influence people's thinking - that's engaging with the democratic process not a sign of a problem surely? Derek has posted Caroline's forward and kind words to the foreward of his new book - I'm sure he's hoping that will influence people's thinking too - but it wouldn't be seen as wrong by anyone I'd have thought.

I could foresee an internal gpex election where you get slates of candidates (standing as (invents names) Way Forward 2020 and Leafy Lefties) and whether they run as official candidates of those groups or not they would still be running on a joint ticket, people can vote as idiosyncratically as they like and I'm not sure there would be a problem with it.

Matt H: I wonder if the only fair ballot paper would be in the shape of a mobius strip? :)